Dreams have been a huge part of our lives for as long as we have existed. Statistically, we spend over one-third of our life sleeping, and on average, we spend a total of about six years dreaming. It is very common to have around four to seven dreams in one night. Dreams are mostly the result of our thoughts and impulses that we repress during the waking hours of the day. They can happen anytime during sleep, but the most vivid dreams occur during the phase called REM sleep (rapid eye movement sleep) when one's brain is most active.
REM Sleep and Non-REM Sleep
Now that we mentioned REM sleep, you might be wondering what it is and how it is different from Non-REM sleep.
This is the deepest stage of sleeping that happens about 90 minutes after you have closed your eyes to sleep. It is likely to have intense dreams during this sleeping stage as the brain functions actively at that moment. As you grow older, the deep sleep stage starts to decrease in terms of time and intensity in most people. In young kids, about 50% of the sleep time constitutes REM sleep, whereas adults experience only 20% of deep sleep.
Non-REM, also known as NREM, has various subsequent sleep stages. Each stage lasts for different time durations throughout the night. Here is an extensive article to help you know everything about NREM in depth.
Brain basics: A guide to dreaming at night
Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally produced in the brain and then is released directly into our bloodstream. The intensity of light affects the melatonin levels in our body. Darkness helps in producing more melatonin. Hence, we sleep better when the lights are off. However, if we feel that there is a lack of melatonin production in our brain, and we are not able to fall asleep, melatonin can be consumed as medication too. The melatonin created in the body is termed endogenous melatonin, and the synthetically produced melatonin is known as exogenous melatonin.
Can melatonin supplements help you fall asleep?
Melatonin, produced inside the body, helps in enhancing one's sleep process by increasing the chances of good sleep. So, if one is having trouble falling asleep or is not able to have quality sleep, or does not have a consistent sleep schedule, it is very much natural for them to consider having melatonin supplements for the betterment of their sleeping patterns. Research and studies show that melatonin supplements can be very useful to enhance restful sleep in both adults and children.
Side effects of melatonin
Usually, melatonin does not pose a threat to our overall health. Unlike other sleep medicines that you take, and you are likely to get addicted to, melatonin is for short-term use. The common side effects that you might experience with melatonin are headache, dizziness, nausea, and drowsiness. Some other uncommon effects can be short-term depression, mild anxiety, mild tremor, cramps, irritability, less focus, feeling confused, and abnormally low blood pressure. Not all drugs are for everyone. Therefore, if you feel that you need something like melatonin, talking to a health expert is essential.
6 habits for dreaming more
1) Start a dream journal
It is often said that writing your thoughts helps you think about them. You can pen down your thoughts and emotions and let your brain convert them into dreams for you at night. Also, maintaining a dream journal will help to understand the dreams. In some time, you would start understanding the pattern of your dreams and what your subconscious mind wants to communicate.
2) Make a consistent sleep schedule
If you sleep at the same time every night, this will help your REM and Non-REM sleep patterns to be in place. And that is how your chances to dream more increase.
3) Comfortable mattress and sleeping position
If you want to dream, you need to be comfortable. That is why getting a comfortable mattress helps. The more comfortable you are in sleeping, the more you will experience deep sleep, and the chances to dream get higher. Sleeping position is not defined as a factor by science that plays a role in dreaming. However, some experts have found that what you dream and how intense those dreams are can also depend on the positioning of your body while you sleep.
4) Relax before bed
Getting your mind and body at ease before sleeping is very important. Before going to bed, make it a point to practice mediation in a quiet environment. If possible, keep the light exposure minimum. Also, having good sleep hygiene can help you sleep better and begin dreaming. You can also wear an eye mask if it helps.
5) Practice lucid dreams
Lucid dreams are the ones that are controlled by the one seeing them. There are ways to control your dreams, and 'wake back to bed' is one such way. In this, people wake up with their dream in mind and write down what they saw.
6) Try the 'wake back' method
This might sound silly, but it works for a lot of people. Some people want to practice lucid dreams. And that is why they try this method. To get a lucid dream, you can set the alarm to wake up after sleeping for about five hours. That is the time when you have had a deep sleep, and you are likely to be in REM sleep mode. After waking up, you can write about the dream you had and then go back to sleep.
This process of journaling the dreams and their details makes you more aware of your dream, and hence, increasing your chances to have more lucid dreams. However, do not try to force yourself to wake up and write about your dreams because this might disturb your sleep cycle, and you might not be able to fall asleep again. In this case, some people tend to wake up, drink coffee and then write their dreams. If you want to sleep back, avoid caffeine in any form. Lucid dreaming can help you become more aware of yourself and minimize the effect of nightmares. Lucid dreaming also helps in enhancing one's creativity and might increase the chances of getting more positive dreams.
Why do you not remember dreams?
If you are not practicing the lucid dream strategy, there are high chances you won't recall the dream the next morning. However, some people manage to remember their dreams, and some do not. According to doctors, recalling dreams doesn't depend on the quality of sleep. The left hemisphere of our brain is less active while we sleep. It is responsible for remembering things and deciphering visual cues. That is the reason why we cannot remember dreams. It can also be affected by neurological disorders like anxiety, your physical health, the medication you are on, and even your gender.
How having a sleep disorder affects dreams?
It has been reported that about one-third of the adults across the U.S. do not sleep enough. Sleep disorders in people have become more common these days. Some of the sleep disorders are insomnia or sleep apnea. These disorders often cause an imbalance in our circadian rhythm and cause disturbance while sleeping.
Should I use an alarm clock?
When you hit the bed to get a good night's sleep, it is advised to ditch the alarm clock and try to set an internal clock to wake up in the morning. Alarm clocks wake you up in a tired form. Positive dreams are what tell that you slept well and that you have a good mind-body balance.
Do Dreams Affect Everyday Life?
If you dream and are able to recall your dreams, it is a sign of high creativity in you. Furthermore, dreams can help a person become more thoughtful, analyze things, and improve memory consolidation. However, on the downside, if anyone is suffering from neurological disorders or sleep issues, they can experience traumas in their sleep because of bad dreams too. So recurring nightmares can also have a bad effect on our health and mental health, leading to sleep deprivation.
To have more dreams, one must have good sleeping patterns, and for that, it is highly recommended that one must avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and other chemicals that can adversely affect the sleeping patterns. A hygienic room with darkened or dim lights at the time of sleep can also be of help. One must avoid intake of foods that can cause indigestion or can hamper sleep at night. Exercising early in the morning is always beneficial and healthy. The best way to have a healthy sleep is to follow a proper schedule during the day and lie down on the bed when you're tired.